My awesome wife often asks me challenging questions. About Ash Wednesday she wondered aloud if taking ashes contravened Jesus’ words in Matthew:
“When you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites. They neglect their appearance, so that they may appear to others to be fasting. Amen, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, so that you may not appear to be fasting, except to your Father who is hidden. And your Father who sees what is hidden will repay you.”
I suggest Jesus commands this to protect our souls from the sin of pride, so that our fasting will be effective and meritorious. It is the same reason, in the same sermon, Jesus commands us to pray privately. Yet, we Christians commonly pray in public, in front of each other, and for very good reasons. Based on long-standing Christian practice, and Jesus’ motivations for this command, I doubt this is a blanket prohibition (though I realize we could go into this issue at length!).
Let’s also consider that everyone knows it’s Ash Wednesday. It is no secret, so why hide the fact? Hiding the silent witness that we’re Christians and we anticipate the coming of our Lord Jesus seems, in that light, a moot point.
Today Christians are posting their #ashtags on social media, encouraging others to get their ashes. And I applaud them – brethren, if we hide our ashes, we hide our light. We should encourage others to get their ashes today, publicly, as there is no point in hiding.
Yet, the #ashtag opposers have a point. We cannot just “get our ashes”, post an #ashtag selfie, celebrate a few fish friday deals, and show up on Easter in new clothes. No, we’d commit the same offense Jesus warns us against.
We take ashes on our forehead are an outward expression of our minds’ inward repentance of sin, in hope of gaining meritorious grace. As the priest will say to us, we fast to “go and sin no more” remembering that “we are dust, and to dust we will return”.
40 days we meditate on these words, and at the end, marvel that God would allow his crucifixion to save us, those who certainly continue to sin, and are nothing other than dust.
We also marvel that this same God will one day destroy sin and our corruptible flesh, and make us who are dust just like his Son.
If you take ashes, remember this. If you post an #ashtag selfie, remember this even more, and guard your heart.
I applaud the risk, because we’re coming out of darkness into light, and showing the world that we love our God. The world wants to believe it will always progress, but Ash Wednesday says the world is dying and we must be reborn if we wish to see the Parousia.
Jesus, I realize that I am dust, and that save your grace, to dust I will return. Perfect in me your saving work, and welcome me into your kingdom. Create in me a clean heart that I may worship you. And draw others to yourself by my silent witness. Amen. #ashtagprayer